Thursday, March 31, 2016

US Security & INTELLIGENCE

[This was sent to me from a friend that works for the USAF.]

 US Security & INTELLIGENCE . . .The single most prominent characteristic of contemporary America is that common sense has been abandoned to political correctness and "feelings". 
 
  
As President George W. Bush's top speech writer, Marc Thiessen was provided unique access to the CIA program used in interrogating top Al Qaeda terrorists, including the mastermind of the 9/11 attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM).
 

  Now, his riveting new book, "Courting Disaster", How the CIA Kept America Safe (Regnery), has been published.  Here is an excerpt from "Courting Disaster":
 

  "Just before dawn on March 1, 2003, two dozen heavily armed Pakistani tactical assault forces move in and surround a safe house in Rawalpindi .  A few hours earlier they had received a text message from an informant inside the house.  It read: "I am with KSM."
 

 Bursting in, they find  the disheveled mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in his bedroom.   He is taken into custody. In the safe house, they find a treasure trove of computers, documents, cell phones and other  valuable "pocket litter."
 

  Once in custody, KSM is defiant.   He refuses to answer questions,informing his captors that he will tell them everything when he gets to America and sees his  lawyer.   But KSM is not taken to America to see a lawyer Instead he is taken to a secret CIA "black site" in an undisclosed location.
 

  Upon arrival, KSM finds himself in the complete control of Americans. He does not know where he is, how long he will be there, or what his fate will be.
 

Despite his circumstances, KSM still refuses to talk.   He spews contempt at his interrogators, telling them Americans are weak, lack resilience, and are unable to do what is necessary  to prevent the terrorists from succeeding in their goals. He has trained to resist interrogation.   When he is asked for information about  future attacks, he tells his questioners scornfully: "Soon, you will know."
 

  It becomes clear he will not reveal the information using traditional interrogation techniques.  So he undergoes a series of "enhanced interrogation techniques" approved for use only on the most high-value detainees.  The techniques include waterboarding.  He begins telling his CIA de-briefers about active al Qaeda plots to launch attacks against the United States and other Western targets. He holds classes for CIA officials, using a chalkboard to draw a  picture of al Qaeda's operating structure, financing, communications, and logistics.   He identifies al Qaeda travel routes and safe havens,  and helps intelligence officers make sense of documents and computer records seized in terrorist raids.   He identifies voices in intercepted telephone calls, and helps officials understand the meaning of coded terrorist communications. He provides information that helps our intelligence community capture other high-ranking  terrorists .
 

  KSM's questioning, and that of other captured terrorists, produces more than 6,000 intelligence reports, which are shared across the intelligence community, as well as with our allies across the world.  In one of these reports, KSM describes in detail the revisions he made to his failed 1994-1995 plan known as the "Bojinka plot" to blow up a dozen airplanes carrying some 4,000 passengers over the Pacific Ocean .  Years later, an observant CIA officer notices the activities of a cell being followed by British authorities appear to match KSM's description of his plans for a Bojinka-style attack. In an operation that involves unprecedented intelligence cooperation between our countries, British officials proceed to unravel the plot.
 

  On the night of Aug. 9, 2006 they launch a series of raids in a northeast London suburb that lead to the arrest of two dozen al Qaeda terrorist suspects.   They find a USB thumb-drive in the pocket of one of the men with security details for Heathrow airport, and information on seven Trans-Atlantic flights that were scheduled to take off within hours of each other:
 

 * United Airlines Flight 931 to San Francisco departing at 2:15 PM
* Air Canada Flight 849 to Toronto departing at 3:00 PM
* Air Canada Flight 865 to Montreal departing at 3:15 PM
* United Airlines Flight 959 to Chicago departing at 3:40 PM
* United Airlines Flight 925  to Washington departing at 4:20 PM
* American Airlines Flight 131 to New York departing at 4:35 PM
* American Airlines Flight 91 to Chicago departing at 4:50 PM

 

 They seize bomb-making equipment and  hydrogen peroxide to make liquid explosives.  And they find the  chilling martyrdom videos the suicide bombers had prepared.
 

  Today, if you asked an average person on the street what they know about the 2006 airlines plot, most would not be able to tell you much. Few Americans are aware of the fact  al Qaeda had planned to mark the fifth anniversary of  9/11 with an attack of similar scope and magnitude.   And still fewer realize the terrorists' true intentions in this plot were uncovered thanks to critical information obtained through the interrogation of the man who conceived it: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  
 

 This is only one of the many attacks stopped with the help of the CIA interrogation program established by the Bush Administration in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  
In addition to helping break up these specific  terrorist cells and plots, CIA questioning provided our intelligence community with an unparalleled body of information about al Qaeda.                    
 

  Until the program was temporarily suspended in 2006, intelligence officials say, well over half of the information our government had about al Qaeda-how it operates, how it moves money, how it communicates, how it recruits operatives, how it picks targets, how it plans and carries out attacks-came from the interrogation of terrorists in CIA custody.
 

  Former CIA Director George Tenet has declared:   "I know this program  has saved lives. I know we've disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than what the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us."
 

  Former CIA Director Mike Hayden has said: "The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work." Even Barack Obama's Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, has acknowledged: "High-value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country."  Leon Panetta, Obama's CIA Director, has said: "Important information was gathered from these detainees. It provided information that was acted upon.
 

 John Brennan, Obama's Homeland Security Advisor, when asked in an interview if enhanced-interrogation techniques were necessary to keep America safe, replied :  "Would the U. S. be handicapped if the CIA was not, in fact, able to carry out these types of detention and debriefing activities, I would say yes."
 

 On Jan. 22, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13491, closing the CIA program and directing that, henceforth, all interrogations by U. S. personnel must follow the techniques contained in the Army Field Manual.
 

  The morning of the announcement, Mike Hayden was still in his post as CIA Director, He called White House Counsel Greg Craig and told him bluntly:  "You didn't ask, but this is the CIA officially non-concurring".  The president went ahead anyway, overruling the objections of the agency.
 

  A few months later, on April 16, 2009, President Obama ordered the release of four Justice Department memos that described in detail the techniques used to interrogate KSM and other high-value terrorists. This time, not just Hayden (who was now retired) but five CIA directors -including Obama's own director, Leon Panetta objected. George Tenet called to urge against the memos' release.  

 So did Porter Goss.  So did John Deutch. Hayden says:  "You had CIA directors in a continuous unbroken stream to 1995 calling saying, 'Don't do this.'"  In addition to objections from the men who led the agency for a collective 14 years, the President also heard objections from the agency's covert field operatives.  A few weeks earlier, Panetta had arranged for the eight top officials of the Clandestine Service to meet with the President.  It was highly unusual for these clandestine officers to visit the Oval Office, and they used the opportunity to warn the President that releasing the memos would put agency operatives at risk. The President reportedly listened  respectfully, and then ignored their advice.  

With these actions, Barack Obama arguably did more damage to America 's national security in his first 100 days of office than any President in American history.
 

  But how many people know this?.... only the few that read this from beginning to end.

Entitlements, Privileges, And Immunities: A Tirade On Tribe

     You may already have heard about this notable contretemps over a “cultural appropriation:”

     SAN FRANCISCO (KCRA) —A video showing a confrontation between two San Francisco State University students about dreadlocks and cultural appropriation has gone viral. University police are investigating the incident, the school said in a statement Tuesday.

     The 46-second video, posted on YouTube Monday, shows a black student confronting a white student with dreadlocks in the hall of a university building.

     “You’re saying I can’t have a hairstyle because of your culture? Why?” the man asks.

     “Because it’s my culture,” the woman replies.

     The man then attempts to walk away, but the woman blocks his path. He tells her to stop touching him and tries to walk away again. The woman seems to grab his jacket, telling him to come back.

     The man then turns around to walk away again, saying, “I don’t need your disrespect.”

     Here’s the video of the encounter:

     The esteemed Ace of Spades has provided a partial transcript:

     "Do not put your hands on me," she demands, as he tries to pry her hands off of him while she drags him into a corner to further harass him.

     So:

  • This young black woman asserted a privilege over the young white man: specifically, a proprietary interest in his hairstyle.
  • Moreover, she believes she enjoys immunity from the laws against assault.
  • She feels entitled to assert her imaginary privilege by physical force, while simultaneously protesting the reciprocation of that force by the white student in defense of his person.

     There’s a 46-second eyeful for you. Even for San Francisco.


     We’ve been hearing a lot about “tribes” lately, particularly with regard to the racial tension that’s flared up during the Obama years. Among the most important aspects of a society with several tribal components is the attitude of tribe members toward the society’s overall laws and customs.

     Here’s what I wrote about tribes and tribalism back when. The bit that’s most on my mind at the moment runs thus:

     Critical to the understanding of tribes' political importance is the appreciation of how they function in relation to one another over time. The cohesive identity of a tribe causes it to resist subsumption in a larger unit. That resistance is not absolute; tribes have often allowed such subsumption, when given a sufficient reason, as in the case of the formation of the United States from the freshly liberated states. However, since a tribe's ways and traditions incorporate preferences for its own members, the interpenetration of tribes, for whatever reason, will sometimes eventuate in violence. Neighboring tribes that have a history of violent interactions will thus have two reasons to resist subsumption, one considerably more powerful than the other.

     Alongside that, here’s the haymaker from what I wrote about the creation of privileged classes:

     In the absence of a scrupulously observed Rule of Law, classes with differing degrees of privilege will emerge. The flourishing of the members of each class will be influenced, often heavily, by the class's privileges and how effectively they can be exploited. Men being what we are, we will be moved to use those privileges in our own interest, both against competitors within our class and against other classes.

     Success breeds emulation. If there are advantages to be had from the ruthless exploitation of a class privilege, over time more and more members of the class will be drawn into doing so. Thus, the coloration given to the class by its privileges will become stronger and more inclusive over time.

     This is not an unbounded progression; as in all other things, a tendency toward equilibrium will ultimately assert itself. However, the mechanisms by which equilibrium is restored are always unpleasant. The deterrents that curb full exploitation of a class privilege, if any exist at all, will be applied by other classes, whether through the law, other social institutions, or "informally." "Informally" usually means lynching: the application of extra-judicial, often unmerited punishment to members of one class by members of another. In the usual case, the lynchers come from a more numerous class than the lynchees, though there are occasional exceptions.

     Lynching, if it goes unpunished, is itself a class privilege. There are satisfactions in it that are incomprehensible to moral men who live in ordinary times. As with other activities with innate satisfactions, the popularity of the practice will grow over time. A mob that's tasted the blood of one aristocrat is seldom satisfied with just that one sip.

     Lynching writ large is genocide.

     Read those pieces again. In the latter case, substitute the word tribe wherever the word class appears. I’ll wait.


     A species of tribal particularism – i.e., the preference for members of one’s own tribe even when it defies the laws of the larger society – is suggested by the case cited here. I refer to the presence of a third party, plainly visible in the video. Note that:

  • He’s a black male;
  • He watches the altercation without intervening.

     Were the white student to complain to the police about the assault, what do you suppose, in the absence of the damning video, the black man would say?

     Imagine that the onlooker were white. Imagine that, instead of three persons, there were three dozen – and that all of the additional attendees were white males. How do you suppose matters would have played out then? Would any of the white spectators have dared to intervene to control the behavior of a black woman? Isn’t such a person privileged twice over?

     You may not like it, but that’s the way things are at present in these United States.


     I’m sure my Gentle Readers don’t need for me to beat this into the magma. Rather, I’ll let Nicki at The Liberty Zone provide the capper:

     We’ve become an entitlement society. I’m not just talking about those who feel they’re entitled to goods and services at others’ expense merely by virtue of existing. I’m not just talking about those who despise the success and achievement of others and feel themselves deserving of a piece of that pie they haven’t earned. All of these characters are symptoms of a larger problem....

     We have a society that’s so scared to hurt Precious Punkins’ feelings, and so afraid to allow them to fail, that they prohibit teachers from using red pens when correcting homework for fear that it might scar the FEELZ, and hand out participation trophies as prizes for not achieving!

     Results are not important. Effort is only marginally required, if at all.

     And the result is Special Snowflakes who feel they are entitled to “safe spaces” at colleges and universities to keep them away from anything that challenges their worldview.

     Look at a Special Snowflake and see a member of a tribe. They’re asserting owners’ privileges over things they don’t own, and immunities against laws that bind the rest of us. They’re getting bolder about it with every passing day. They’re getting away with it, in part because of the collusion of public officials and other highly placed persons.

     Combine those privileges, those immunities, and that sense of entitlement with the barely-checked racial animosity we suffer. Heat just a little more with “black lives matter” propaganda and outright lies about the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown incidents. What sort of cake can we reasonably expect to pop out of our national oven?

     Yet it puzzles my beloved wife that I refuse to leave the house unarmed. It is to laugh...hollowly, and with a deep sense of dread for our future.

New product idea: noble intentions insurance.

Liberalism has helped to make Western peoples blind by creating the belief that noble intentions are more prevalent than corrupt intentions.
"How They Brainwash Us — Paul Craig Roberts." By Paul Craig Roberts, PaulCraigRoberts.org, 3/30/16.

H/t: The Unz Review.

Political theater: the pretend U.S. war on ISIS.

For years, just looking at maps - including those produced by Washington-based think tanks themselves - revealed the true nature of Syria's ongoing conflict. Forces could be seen flowing into the country as one would expect amid an invasion, not a "civil war." While the West's military campaigns over and upon Syrian soil claimed to be taking on the so-called "Islamic State" (ISIS), it was clear that nothing was being done about cutting off the obvious supply corridors sustaining ISIS' fighting capacity.

In other words, the US and its "coalition's" war on ISIS was feigned. No genuine military campaign would ever be fought on the front lines while neglecting the enemy's logistical lifelines - especially when those lifelines led from NATO territory.

It wasn't until Russia's intervention on behalf of the Syrian government, that these corridors were targeted and disrupted -- thus fully exposing the gambit for all the world to see.[1]

Lest anyone should think that hitting ground targets for the U.S. Air Force is difficult, this video shows that it is not.

Detecting ground targets is also not difficult. JSTARS aircraft were used to support air attacks on Gaddafi's forces in the amazing war on Libya where U.S. foreign policy was revealed for the genius enterprise that it is. Also, Navy’s P-3 Orion sub-hunters were operating in Libya and some have similar capabilities similar to those of the JSTARS aircraft. (Same link as the preceding one.) These aircraft were available in Libya so if they did not appear in the skies near or over Syria that was a command decision not a matter of unavailability.

So, now ask yourself if the oil tanker or 50-100+ Toyota convoys funding, supplying, and moving ISIS forces cleverly evaded detection and destruction despite the best efforts of the U.S. Air Force to do just that.

Or . . . was the "war" against ISIS just political theater?

Notes
[1] "Syria: Phantom “Rebels” Return from the Dead." By Tony Cartalucci, New Eastern Outlook, 3/7/16.

H/t: "Who knew Islamic State was a fan of French colonialism?" By Pundita, 3/8/16.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The War On Freedom Of Expression: Tactics, Strategy, Objectives, And Motives

     Among the things my fiction readers have cited to me as particularly meaningful to them is the following:

     “Of all the musts and must-nots of warfare, this one is paramount: you must conceal your motives. Unless he is insignificant in comparison to you, once your opponent knows your motives, he'll be able to defeat you. He'll probably even have a choice of ways to do it.
     “You must move heaven and earth, if necessary, to discover your opponent's motives. His tactics will be determined by them. If his motives change, his tactics will follow. There lies your opportunity, if you can get him to adopt tactics unsuitable to the conflict.”

     [From On Broken Wings]

     The military analyst always reasons from the enemy’s tactics to his strategy, thence to his objectives, and finally to his motives: the concealed desires and fears that really animate his campaign. Ponder that while I finish my yogurt. It’s the meat of today’s tirade.


     Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch will be aware of the anti-free-expression trend currently infesting American centers of “higher education.” What tends to pass under the radar is the emergence of that trend in high schools:

     It was just before Christmas break when 17-year-old University of Pennsylvania-bound Michael Moroz wrote an opinion piece for the Central High school paper, the Centralizer.

     In it, he criticized the racially charged University of Missouri protests at the time and suggested that Michael Brown, the black teenager killed in 2014 by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., was "a delinquent" who was "at worst, justifiably killed, and at best, a thug."...

     When the column hit the paper’s Facebook page, threats poured in. Moroz said he was forced to stay home initially, and when he returned, threats and harassment prompted him to withdraw and finish his senior year on home study.

     “When everything started to happen, I was surprised,” Moroz told FoxNews.com. “Whenever we posted an op-ed, we never got a reaction like I did with this one. In retrospect, I was naive to think that this would have been the same. Now, it’s more disappointing than anything.”

     Moroz said the harassment has continued on social media since he has entered independent study and claims even his former teachers and staff at Central have taken part.

     A high-school newspaper op-ed prompted an outpouring of threats against its author – some of them from presumably adult teachers. Those threats were apparently serious enough to induce the author to leave the school.

     What works on college campuses was bound to manifest elsewhere. Moreover, the “pre-intimidation” of younger, more emotionally vulnerable teens and pre-teens would tend to ease and simplify the Left’s suppression efforts at later stages of life.


     The Left’s war on freedom of speech has become too obvious for anyone to deny. The Left doesn’t trouble to deny it. Instead its spokespeople proclaim themselves against “hate speech,” the working definition of which appears to be “whatever the Left doesn’t want expressed.” That “freedom for the thought we hate” has been extended even to Nazis, Communists, and outspoken proponents of shari’a doesn’t trouble them at all. Nor are there many persons in journalism who’ll confront them on the hatefulness of their sentiments.

     Many people would contend that the sort of tactic described above is only possible because of Internet anonymity. Yet many of the threats and calumnies against persons who voice opinions the Left wants to suppress are made quite publicly, under the correct names of the attackers. In the usual case, they suffer no penalty for their behavior, successfully chilling the expression of Left-disapproved sentiments at effectively zero cost.

     Persons who donate to conservative causes and organizations must fear to be attacked in this manner. Family-owned companies founded on Christian moral and ethical principles are routinely targeted. In the most extreme cases of the day, state officials have discovered that they can’t pass laws that protect religious freedom without being vilified and threatened – in several recent cases, by the executives and legislators of other states.

     The tactic allows us to infer the strategy behind it.


     Once again, an earlier essay is relevant:

     In his fine 1967 book The American Tradition, Dr. Clarence Carson noted that liberal opinion about freedom had settled on a rather stunted view: that free speech plus a voting mechanism provided all the freedom the nation could ever require. Of course, that view leaves everything else to be legislated, regulated, and taxed to the hilt -- an electorally ratified totalitarianism in which everything not compulsory is forbidden -- but that's all right because we're still free to complain about it....

     Should our legislators ever presume to pass a law criminalizing "hate speech," and should a case under such a law reach the Supreme Court, would the Justices uphold the law, taking refuge once more in "international opinion"? Given recent developments, it's hard to be confident that they wouldn't.

     Liberal attachment to free speech and open elections has always been shaky. Herbert Marcuse's famous essay "Repressive Tolerance" has beckoned to them from the ideological darkness for forty years. Considering how far they'll go to overturn an election in which they came out second best, just how much would it surprise anyone were they to use "evolving standards," "living document" and "clear and present danger" themes to attack what remains of the right of free expression guaranteed by the First Amendment? And given the demonstrated proclivities of supposedly conservative Republican legislators, who want to retain their power and perquisites quite as much as their liberal Democratic counterparts, how much resistance to the notion could we expect the GOP to mount?

     Intolerance of conservative and libertarian sentiments is now the norm, socially and institutionally if not yet legislatively. I have no doubt that there are busy little beavers working on the latter course.


     I oppose many things the Left favors:

  • Same-sex marriage;
  • “Progressive” taxation of incomes;
  • The welfare state in all its excrescences;
  • Any and every “anti-discrimination” law;
  • Abortion on demand at all stages of gestation;
  • Government-run education at any and all levels;
  • Laws and policies that limit private Americans’ freedom of choice;
  • The entire extra-Constitutional regulatory apparatus of the federal government;
  • The practice among judicial bodies to “interpret” laws to say other than what they say.

     I could extend that list, but I think you get the idea. I’m outspoken about all those things. I get as much vicious email as my inbox can hold. I dismiss it all; most of my detractors are cowards who wouldn’t dare to debate me publicly, much less raise a hand to me. The proof is in the consequences: all I get is vicious email – and my name and address are publicly available.

     Frank Yerby once had a character say that “To threaten is the act of incertitude, of cowardice.” I was uncertain of the truth of that assessment when I first encountered it, but no longer. He who threatens either has no ability to act, or hopes he won’t need to do so to attain his objective.

     The strategy of threats and demonization allows us to infer the Left’s objective: a bloodless victory over conservative opinion. The motive is fear: the Left’s fear that its essential cowardice, like the laziness that infuses its demands for free stuff, will become too evident to be concealed.

     Food for thought.

A glimpse of the future.

Note the indifference of the police. The crime against a native German kid was of no interest to them but, because the father of the kid who was attacked displayed a starter pistol to discourage an attack on himself by 20 "asylum seekers," 12 Federal Border Police show up at his door the next day prepared to batter down the front door.

The police are not interested in addressing the crimes of "asylum seekers" but will come down like a ton of bricks on any German who dares, who has the effrontery, to investigate a gang attack on his son.

This is exactly what Sam Francis called "anarcho-tyranny." The police do not enforce the laws against criminal scum but persecute the law-abiding middle for the slightest infraction of oppressive laws against display of a weapon (with not even a wave in the direction of self defense) or, as we well know, hate speech.

The native European is to be replaced and the interests of foreign savages are to be vigorously defended.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Quickies: An America-First Foreign Policy

     One of the few things about Donald Trump’s candidacy that I wholeheartedly approve is his embrace of the “America First” attitude toward foreign interventions. Patrick Buchanan has a fine article on the subject at VDARE. Herewith, I present another statement of great merit, from a fictional future president at a time when the world is threatened with destruction by an implacable alien invader:

     “...the U.S. is not willing to defend others if they are not willing to contribute to their own defense. Nor is it willing to sacrifice its treasure and blood when other countries stand idly by, suppling materials for great cost, reaping the benefits of American sacrifice while enriching themselves....

     “At the end of this conference, I will announce that the U.S. is withdrawing from all standing mutual defense treaties. If the choice has to be made, the first choice will be to defend the citizens of the United States who are paying for that defense....

     “The world has become accustomed to the U.S. cleaning up its messes, defending it, stabilizing it and generally reaping the benefits of America’s commitment to democracy, free trade and freedom without incurring any of the massive cost involved. Now the world expects the U.S. to defend it again, reaping even more benefits while America bleeds.

     “Not going to happen,” the President said, looking around. “You can toss your ante on the table or you can damned well die. And that concludes my statement.”

     [John Ringo, Citadel]

     How about it, Gentle Reader? Had enough of playing unsalaried “world policeman” yet?

Writers’ Maladies

     Good morning, Gentle Readers. If you’re as thoroughly sick of the Page One news as I am, perhaps you, too, will appreciate a diversion into one of my other obsessions. For my part, I positively need it. Any more “news” of severed heads, bits of bodies, Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management shenanigans, slanging matches between presidential candidates, or universities and their “safe spaces” and I just might haul out the Barrett .50 and the emergency package of Oreo Double-Stufs.

     Writers of fiction deal with certain, shall we say, disorders of the psyche, most of which most non-writers are blessedly spared. As I’m slowly recovering from one myself, I thought the subject might make a “welcome change from potatoes.”


     One that’s not solely a writers’ problem is specific to the fictioneer who strains to support himself on his writing alone. It’s generically known as poverty. There have been many well-known writers who couldn’t do without their “day jobs.” The one that comes to mind immediately is Anthony Trollope, who allowed himself a bare fifteen minutes to write each morning before heading off to his salaried job as a postman.

     This can be a transitional stage, of course: the writer who starts out writing in his spare time, if he acquires a large and loyal following, might eventually be able to do without his wage gig. For example, Tom Clancy was an insurance salesman before The Hunt for Red October made him wealthy enough to purchase the state of Maryland. It’s unwise to count on that from the outset, but it does happen now and then. Still, the majority of us combine our fictional endeavors with something more mundane, in the interests of regular nutrition.

     Some writers find financial pressures to be a stimulus to creativity. Mickey Spillane once told of a “dry” period, in which he felt wholly uncreative and spent weeks doing nothing but lolling about on the beach. The spell broke when his accountant called to tell him his bank balance was nearing zero. “Damned if I didn’t start having one idea after another,” commented Spillane. It would be nice if it worked that way for all of us, wouldn’t it?


     Another problem writers often confront is something I call, semi-ironically, “grooving:” becoming so locked into a particular story setting, Marquee character, or theme that he cannot depart from it. His “groove” has become too deep; he can no longer reach the lip, hoist himself out, and try something else. This is most common among writers in tightly defined sub-genres, such as “hard-boiled” mysteries or techno-military thrillers.

     Sometimes a writer’s readership can precipitate the problem. Consider Lee Child, one of the most popular thriller writers currently producing. His series of novels featuring itinerant ex-military-cop Jack Reacher commands an immense following. Can Child write about anything else at this point? Perhaps – but perhaps he feels he must remain with Reacher, to keep his existing readers happy and loyal. Given the financial inducements involved, it would surely be hard for him to consider dedicating months or a year to the evolution of a wholly new character and setting.


     The third writers’ complaint I’ll address today is “forgetting why you came.” An extended story series is often tightly coupled to a specific theme, from which the author’s motivation arises. When the theme has been adequately expressed, the series should come to an end. However, if the series has become popular, a variety of the “grooving” malady described above might kick in: the author persists with the series, or important elements thereof, but either strays fatally from the energizing theme, or beats it brutally into the ground.

     A setting and character group sculpted toward the enactment of specific kinds of dramas should not be ripped from their thematic foundation and put to other, less compatible uses. Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin would not function as itinerant preachers. Katniss Everdeen would never make a general. Try to imagine 24’s Jack Bauer as a DEA agent, or Buffy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a crusader against homelessness. Such notions grate against the mind...yet sins worse than these have been committed by writers desperate to squeeze one or two more books out of a setting and protagonist.

     It’s just as bad to hammer one’s theme relentlessly. Granted that some themes have more juice in them than others. My personal favorites, freedom and the Christian ethos, can seem inexhaustible. Yet these, too, can be abused, especially if one perpetuates the setting and Marquee characters associated with them past their “sell-by dates.” One must not cudgel one’s readers with ideas one has already adequately expressed.


     There are other problems common among writers, of course. The above are the ones most on my mind this morning, specifically because of their power. Their allure and my desire to avoid being sucked into them have clashed from time to time, including recently. When I become aware that one is about to sink its fangs into me, I step away from the keyboard and do something – housework, yard work, exercise, anything! – other than write until the evil glamor has dissipated. (I’ve waxed the garden hoses more than once.)

     And yet, the magnetism of such a trap can pursue me even as I struggle to wrest myself from its grasp. For example: My recent failure to complete Statesman in a satisfying manner got me wondering, “What could I attempt that’s so distant from this that even flirting with it for a while would be refreshing?” I settled on a romance. (My first agent repeatedly suggested that I “write a nice romance.” Back then, I pretended that I couldn’t hear her. Perhaps this is her revenge.) So I set to the task...and immediately found myself pondering how to use the characters from a story I’d written a decade ago. Yes, yes, their story was a horror pastiche written as a sort-of-homage to the great horror writers of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, but still...

     Beware, Gentle Reader!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Quickies: Research Help Needed

     Just in case you were in any doubt, I’m not a lawyer. Just now, I could use the help of someone more knowledgeable about entertainment law than I.

     My questions involve the following scenario. An actress has signed a contract to appear in a movie whose production has not yet begun. The contract to appear includes, at her request, a no-nudity clause: that is, any requirement that she bare her body for the camera will void the contract and cause the producers to forfeit a large payment to her.

     At some later point, the producers, director, and scriptwriter decide that they want a nude scene for that actress’s character. The no-nudity clause stands in their way, and it appears to be airtight. So they hire a “body double” to play that scene, trusting to CGI to make the necessary adjustments to the double’s face. Production begins.

     Question 1: If the actress is notified beforehand of the insertion of the nude scene and the body double, does she have legal recourse against the producers? That is: can she claim that the movie imputes public nudity to her, violating the implications of her contract, and force a halt to the production unless the nude scene is removed?

     Question 2: If the actress is not notified, and the production is completed before she learns about the nude scene, does she have legal recourse then?

  • 2a: Can she get an injunction against the showing of the movie?
  • 2b: If the movie has already been shown to a public audience, can she win a penalty against the producers for the damage to her reputation?

     Question 3: Alter the original scenario: Imagine that the production has already begun, and the nude scene has already been shot with a suitable body double, before our hypothetical actress with her no-nudity restriction is contracted to appear in it. Would that change the answers to the questions above?

     Any help from knowledgeable Gentle Readers would be greatly appreciated, especially if it includes references to relevant cases that have actually been litigated rather than settled.

Credit where credit's due.

Obama responded to the “credibility” argument by Kerry and Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power at a White House meeting by pointing out that “dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.”
"Obama’s Break with the Establishment." By Gareth Porter, Consortiumnews.com, 3/21/16.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Yet Another Near Brush With Death

     The Fortress of Crankitude has an “extra” room, originally intended as a Florida room, that we’ve dedicated to the comfort of our four cats. It’s where they eat, spend much of their day, and “do their business.” (Two litter boxes; no waiting!) We think of it as “their room” because, owing to its Dutch door, our dogs can’t annoy them when they’re in there, and because we can confine them to it when the need arises. Normally they have the run of the whole house, unless the C.S.O. – my wife Beth – is working or the cleaning lady is here.

     I chose the linoleum floor in that room for ease of cleaning. On litter box changing day, after I’ve swept up the scattered bits of litter and cat hair, Beth cleans the floor with an Oreck steam unit. It’s an easy and effective way to keep the cats healthy and deal with the dust from the litter boxes.

     Today, after I’d changed the litter and swept up, I fetched the steamer from the garage, filled it with water, and on unaccountable impulse – really! I mean, I hadn’t planned it – presented it to my beloved wife, saying unto her:

“O Beth, where is thy steam?”

     And I alone am escaped to tell thee!

     (Happy Easter, everyone!)

Quickies: Scapegoats

     Among the dismissals of the Christian story I’ve heard most often is that the tale of Jesus’s Crucifixion is merely a slight variation on the old theme of the “scapegoat:” the animal sacrificed in expiation for humans’ sins. And indeed, many pre-Christian religions did practice that sort of sacrifice, along with preparatory rituals in which the sacrificial animal was supposedly given the sins of the participants to bear. The theory of such practices was that only bloodshed can remit sin, so the blood of an animal substituted for the shedding of human blood.

     Then along comes Jesus of Nazareth to tell us that, much as Hosea said, His Father wants “mercy and not sacrifice.” So, in keeping with the incentives embedded in theocracy and the customs of the day, the Sanhedrin denounced Him for blasphemy and contrived, with Roman cooperation, to have Him put to death. And He did not resist, nor did He permit His disciples to resist for him:

     And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.
     Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
     In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me. But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.

     [Matthew 26:51-56]

     Strictly speaking, since God knows no necessity, Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion were not necessary for the remission of men’s sins (though they were certainly sufficient). But they demonstrated beyond any doubt that He had meant what He said about a New Covenant between God and Man. Coupled to His Resurrection, they eliminated any doubt that He had the authority to proclaim it.

     Should we doubt the Redeemer simply because He and His Father chose to emulate the scapegoat practice, that They might harness its symbolism to Their service? I think not, any more than we should doubt the existence of a realm of eternal bliss simply because it’s so often spoken of as “above,” when we know that above us are space, the other planets, and the stars.

     Symbolism is a powerful tool for opening and guiding men’s minds. It’s no less appropriate in God’s hands than in the hands of any human storyteller.

“For He Is Risen, As He Said.”

     In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
     And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
     His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
     And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
     And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
     He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
     And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
     And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
     And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.
     Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

     [Matthew 28:1-10]

     A happy Easter to all.

The Last Vigil

    The darkness was absolute. No fire burned within range of his sight. Neither moon nor stars bedecked the sky. Had he not taken his post in daylight, he would not have known where he stood. Only the rough stone wall of the crypt against his back served to remind him of it.
    The swaddling darkness had robbed him of his sense of the passing of time. The lack was halfway between a comfort and a curse. His thoughts had come unmoored, which partly assuaged the pain of his deed, but if he could not think plainly of it, how, then, could he repent of it?
    Several of his men, aware that he'd stood the vigil each of the two nights before, had offered to take the duty from him. He'd thanked them with his usual formality, and declined. This was where he belonged, the only imaginable place where he could finish grieving.
    He'd vowed to himself, silently, that he'd stand the night vigils until the tetrarch rescinded the order that the tomb be guarded...perhaps until God should grant him surcease from his regrets.
    When summoned to bring a condemned to the place of execution, he'd thought little of it. Executions in this rebellious province were common. Given the belligerence of the locals, they demanded a military guard. He and his had been detailed to this rude place as agents of law. The law required that its forms be protected in their observance, if it were ever to gain the allegiance of the barbarians among whom he dwelt.
    Only when he first looked upon the condemned did he realize to what he was to be party.
    Throughout the thing he'd been torn between the need to halt it and the imposed duty to see it carried out as prescribed. His reason knew that for him to interfere in the proceedings would only guarantee his own death for insubordinate treason. Yet the urge was powerful. It never slackened, even unto the moment of death.
    The coup de grace would linger in his memory until he was no more.
    At least the darkness concealed his tears from others' eyes.
    "Dawn is coming."
    The soft words jerked him out of his melancholy reverie. At once he brought his spear to readiness, for in that murk he could not be sure of friend or foe.
    "Be at peace, centurion," said the voice in the darkness. "You have done only what was required of you, though you knew it not. He blessed you even as you pierced his side."
    Confusion buzzed in his head. The voice betrayed nothing of the speaker's identity, and still less of his purpose. "Who speaks?"
    "A witness, and a messenger."
    "Do you seek to defy the law?"
    "No more than he did."
    Though the darkness remained as deep as before, he thought he saw the outline of a human figure, a short distance before him. The figure stood still, arms at its sides.
    "The tetrarch has interdicted this place to all but the men of the legion. Why come you here?"
    "As I have said: to witness. And to deliver a message."
    "What message?"
    "Bide." The figure raised a hand.
    A pinpoint of brilliance ignited between them. It grew steadily to become a sphere of soft light that warmed as it illuminated. By its radiance, the speaker was revealed as a young man of great beauty. His complexion was of smoothest ivory, his eyes and hair the darkest jet. The whiteness of his robe could outshine the noonday sun. He was too perfect to be a creature of mortal flesh.
    The spear fell from the centurion's nerveless hand. He dropped to his knees and made to prostrate himself, but the young man stepped forward, took him by the shoulders and restored him to his feet.
    "In a few moments," the young man said, "a mighty working will occur in this place. Though it must be witnessed in the courts that record all things, it was not meant for mortal eyes. So I have been sent. But my purpose is twofold, for you suffer a guilt that is not yours to bear. I come to relieve it."
    "How?" the centurion breathed.
    "Thus: you have only done what he wanted. And thus: He knew you for one of his own." The young man indicated the glowing sphere with a glance. "But you must not be here when he comes forth. It would unmake your mind and his purpose."
    "Is he not truly dead?"
    The young man chuckled. "Oh, truly. For three days he has toured the depths of Hell, reproving the Mekratrig and his minions for their insolence and reminding them of the mercy of the Almighty. But his time there is done. He has a little while yet to spend among men. But no one may see him rise. No mortal mind could withstand it."
    The centurion remained upright only by the sternest of efforts.
    "Has he forgiven me, then?"
    "There is naught to forgive. He was sent among men to teach, but also to suffer and die. It was you he wanted to attend him in the latter task. So be at peace, Longinus of Etruria, and bear no longer the burden of guilt for a duty ordained for you at birth, which you have well and honorably discharged." His eyes moved to the spear that lay between them. "Guard your weapon well, for it will become an item of legend."
    The young man raised his hand again. "Nunc dimittis."
    The centurion's heart filled with a serene, all-encompassing joy. He saluted the glowing herald, stooped to retrieve his spear, and strode resolutely westward, never looking back. As he walked, the first light from the east touched the hills of Judea. The rays of the rising sun glinted from his armor.
    Dawn was, indeed, coming.

[Copyright (C) Francis W. Porretto, 2010]

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Solutions

     It is tempting to interpret the execrable insouciance of Barack Hussein Obama upon hearing the news of the Brussels bombing as a lack of concern about Islam-powered terrorism. It becomes almost irresistible when one hears about his flip comparison of death rates from terrorism to death rates from bathroom falls. Yet the conclusion is not inevitable. It might be critical that we resist it.

     All the evidence from his seven-plus years in the White House points in the same direction: Obama’s loyalties are indissolubly glued to Islam and Muslims. He will never say a word against them. Note in contrast how often this supposed Christian has lambasted Christians and Christianity. Note how callously he and his spokesmen have treated Israel and the Jews. Note how unwilling he is to escalate American operations against ISIS and al Qaeda, despite their well publicized atrocities.

     Some have theorized that this malignant narcissist has no theology whatsoever – that his overweening ego would never permit him to acknowledge any moral authority above himself. I incline toward that view myself, though I’ll allow that it’s open to debate. Postulate it for the sake of speculation. What would it imply about Obama’s flaccidity in the face of the worldwide low-intensity warfare we call jihad?

     Remember that a head of state is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the State meets its responsibilities, such as they are. First Worlders would generally agree that foremost among those responsibilities is the maintenance of public safety:

  • Preservation of the integrity of the borders;
  • Maintaining peace and order in public places;
  • The just and evenhanded enforcement of the laws.

     Obama has shown no interest in any of those things. He’s occasionally rendered lip service to border control. He’s disregarded the penal laws when they would contravene the interests of some group with which he feels an affinity. His administration’s exacerbation of the racial troubles in Ferguson and Baltimore suggests that public peace is of less importance to him than the opportunity to stoke a crisis from which he might derive some political advantage.

     If we judge by his actions, Obama regards his “legacy” as the supreme consideration:

  • Retracting America’s military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq;
  • Preserving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act;
  • Ramming through the “nuclear deal” with Iran;
  • Making nice with Cuba.

     Such a “legacy” must efface the consequences of those actions. Yet they will surely be remembered. However, the solution to official limp-wristedness in the face of serious threats isn’t to “turn the rascals out” and empower a new set; it’s for Americans to retrieve their responsibilities as free men whose defense lies properly in their own hands.


     “If the police don't defend us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves.” – Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey in Death Wish

     Americans have been on a gun-buying spree for some years now. There have been many articles about it in the mainstream media, most of them in a puzzled, somewhat disapproving tone. The correlation with falling homicide rates has been noted on both sides of the argument over the right to keep and bear arms: on the Right, as a major reason for the decline of those rates; on the Left, as “proof” that we don’t “need” all those guns. One must go to less popular, less esteemed sources of analysis and opinion for a deeper look.

     If we omit shooting-sports enthusiasts and collectors, of which there have been reliably steady numbers for many decades, who remains that would be buying all these guns? Ordinary Americans, many of whom would not have made such purchases ten or twenty years ago. What’s their motivation? Bear in mind that firearms are rather expensive, require their owners to practice with them and maintain them, and routinely draw the disapproval of others not so inclined. What motives can overcome those disincentives?

     The principal motives strong enough for the job are fear and general insecurity. But fear will have a focus; insecurity foresees a destabilization of the conditions around one. Who is there to fear? What elements of our surroundings are likely to bring the roof down upon our heads?

     Islam, especially given the accelerating influx of Muslims to our shores and the rising political activism among Muslims in the U.S., is prominent here. It might not be the only influence involved. Certainly our worsening racial tensions should be considered as well. But Americans have lived with racial tension and sporadic outbreaks of black-on-white violence for fifty years. Islam-powered threats, from the milder sorts visible in places like Brooklyn and Michigan to world-shaking events such as the destruction of the Twin Towers, provide a sharper prod.

     While the Obama Administration is demonstrably uninterested in protecting Americans from Islamic savagery, American politicians generally aren’t much more engaged with the threat. Given the dynamics of popular democracy, they fear to alienate any community of interest, however defined. Thus, the State cannot be expected to defend us. Who remains?

     Paul Kersey knew it quite well. You know it too, don’t you, Gentle Reader?


     The authorities in Death Wish were far more concerned with “stopping the vigilante” than with the rash of crimes from which he and the rest of New York City were suffering. This strikes me as the consequence of municipalized police as opposed to private police. Municipal employees will get paid regardless of whether they “do the job.” Private companies must please their customers; in a competitive environment, they must do it at least as well as their competition. Note that a municipal organization of any sort will have among its motivations the suppression of any competitors. A competitor, after all, might outperform it and make it look bad, just as Paul Kersey did.

     While the aggregate population of Muslims in America is relatively small and concentrated in particular districts, a private response to the Islamic threat, from agitation to open violence, remains practicable. Those in or near such districts can arm themselves – preferably quite visibly – form community watches and patrols, and generally let it be known that they’re “ready.” Muslims’ knowledge of such developments provides a powerful disincentive to any visible disruptions of public peace and order – disruptions that have been all too visible in the no-right-to-bear-arms countries of Europe. It might also help to reduce the incentives propelling Muslim immigration to the United States.

     I believe this influence accounts for a substantial part of the increase in the rate of firearms acquisitions. Should the Muslim fraction of the U.S. continue to increase, the importance of private action to control its tendency to act up at the expense of other Americans will increase as well. No other solution to the threat of Islam is available at this time...nor, given the dynamics of popular democracy and the calculations of the power-hungry, should we expect one any time soon.

Friday, March 25, 2016

For Good Friday

     When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death:
     And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor.
     Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders,
     Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that.
     And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
     And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood.
     And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in.
     Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day.
     Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value;
     And gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord appointed me.
     And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest.
     And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
     Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
     And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
     Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
     And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
     Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?
     For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
     When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.
     But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
     The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas.
     Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified.
     And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.
     When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.
     Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.
     Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
     Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers.
     And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
     And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
     And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head.
     And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.
     And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross.
     And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull,
     They gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink.
     And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.
     And sitting down they watched him there;
     And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
     Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left.
     And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads,
     And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.
     Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said,
     He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.
     He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.
     The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
     Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
     And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
     Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
     And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
     The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
     Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
     And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
     And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
     And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
     Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
     And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
     Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children.
     When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:
     He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.
     And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,
     And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.
     And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.
     Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
     Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.
     Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
     Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.
     So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

     [The Gospel According To Matthew, Chapter 27.]

Capital idea.

Some in intelligence circles suspect that such funding is ongoing. “How much Saudi and Qatari money — and I’m not suggesting direct government funding, but I am suggesting maybe a blind eye being turned — is being channeled towards ISIS and reaching it?” Dearlove asked in July 2014. “For ISIS to be able to surge into the Sunni areas of Iraq in the way that it’s done recently has to be the consequence of substantial and sustained funding. Such things simply do not happen spontaneously.” Those on the receiving end of Islamic State attacks tend to agree. Asked what could be done to help Iraq following the group’s lightning assaults in the summer of 2014, an Iraqi diplomat replied: “Bomb Saudi Arabia.”
"A Special Relationship. The United States is teaming up with Al Qaeda, again." By Andrew Cockburn, Harper's Magazine, 3/22/16.

H/t: Pundita.

The leftist fascination with ruling by decree.

Chelsea Clinton has discovered that Obamacare involves "crushing costs" and thinks something should be done about it.

Obama realized the same thing long ago and parceled out "waivers" for his political cronies who liked the idea of Obamacare in principle but found its particular application to them personally to be inconvenient.

It was not in the contemplation of the Framers and Ratifiers that bad legislation (in this case establishing a monster bureaucracy with all kinds of unintended consequences, including large increases in health insurance premiums and insulting deductibles) could be made more palatable to political cronies of the Executive by allowing for waivers when none could be discovered in the statute.

This was Obama's by-no-means-original contribution to the new America where we are ruled by virtuous philosopher kings who can cut through life's little restraints with a phone and a pen. Now we see how easy it is to "get things done" when you are special, from Harvard (but I repeat myself), and can read a teleprompter. The One We Were Waiting For.

Now we see Chelsea has the same idea – executive action to hold back the tidal waves of soaring cost fine tune some of the small problems that have arisen since Obamacare was put in place. The weekly Standard reports:

A video shows Chelsea Clinton blasting the "crushing costs" of President Barack Obama's signature legislation. In the video, Chelsea Clinton tells a crowd that her mother, Hillary Clinton, is open to using executive action to reduce "crushing costs" of Obamacare.[1]
Chelsea didn't "blast" the "crushing costs" but the rest is accurate – the characteristic openness to making government programs worse by having a wise executive skip the frustrations of working with the peoples' representatives. She mentions working with Congress but the siren song of imperial decree rings loudly in those ears.

These are the dog whistle moments, if you will, of how the left envisions life in a Constitution-free America. Don't think I'm exaggerating. The hippest and wittiest and most knowledgeable among us know that a suspension of the Constitution is just what the country needs. "Opposing views" are an impediment and a dictator can "do a lot of good things quickly" without having to take them into account. Make the trains run on time!

Constitutional and historical illiteracy is hardly a monopoly of the left. After a century of unbelievable slaughter, it's the rare adult I encounter even now who has any serious antipathy to unconstrained government power. Mention of the words "nationalism," "far right" and "free markets" will send more mashed potatoes up educated noses than will the words "dictatorship of the proletariat," "F├╝hrerprinzip," "politburo," "democratic centralism," or "Gulag."

I once had dinner with an friend from high school, a committed liberal I gather. I don't remember what I said but it was some simple criticism of Chinese Communist excess IIRC. I remember his getting very prickly then and he seemed to take my words very personally. It seemed to be his view that the Chinese had had much suffering in the past which thus excused any totalitarian excess by the current rulers. They were beyond reproach. The friendship withered and died after that and that was the only reason I could think of.

I'll not tar my friend by associating him with the views of George Bernard Shaw who almost 90 years ago was reported as saying:

Applied socialism.
Under Socialism, you would not be allowed to be poor. You would be forcibly fed, clothed, lodged, taught, and employed whether you liked it or not. If it were discovered that you had not character and industry enough to be worth all this trouble, you might possibly be executed in a kindly manner; but whilst you were permitted to live, you would have to live well.[2]
It's hard to understand how highly intelligent people can be so arrogant, so sure of their ability to know what is best for others but that is an affliction of a great many people in this world. Dealing with other humans can be messy, frustrating, and galling but casual execution of inconvenient people isn't what decent people should advocate.

There is in leftism, the urge to control, to ignore the views of others, the arrogance, something that is indecent.

Notes
[1] "Chelsea Hits Obamacare's 'Crushing Costs.' Says mother may fix with executive order." By Shoshana Weissmann, the weekly Standard, 3/24/16.
[2] The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, 1928, p. 470) (as quoted in The Creature From Jekyll Island, by G. Edward Griffin, p. 101.)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Quickies: For Artists Of All Kinds

     He who puts his efforts before the world must expect that some persons will react positively and some will react negatively. Mankind is reliable that way. Unanimity of opinion about a book, a movie, a sculpture, a painting, a song, an aroma, a recipe, or any other sort of artwork is vanishingly rare.

     (Well, okay, except for BloodRayne, but that’s one of the exceptions. Besides, Kristianna Loken was very pretty, and Ben Kingsley probably had bills to pay, and...and...oh, never mind.)

     My point, of course, is that the artist must be prepared to receive and weather the unpleasant reactions. In particular, he must abstain from interpreting them as attacks upon himself. They’re probably not attacks on his chosen art form, either. They might be attacks on his message, if he embedded one in his opus, but again, unanimity about such things is so rare as to be nonexistent for practical purposes. To give you an example, I once had a coworker who believed, and would argue passionately, that no one, including he himself, has a right to life. He meant it. Really.

     If you ever find yourself so bored or involuntarily confined that you find yourself watching a televised cooking competition, you’re likely to see the competitors listening to judges criticize their dishes. Never mind that those judges probably couldn’t cook half as well as the least of their victims even if their lives depended on it; their function is to criticize, and to decide on winners and losers. But you’ll rarely hear a cook – even a master chef – reply to even the harshest criticism of his food with anything other than “Thank you.”

     There’s wisdom there. There’s a recognition of the reality of divergent tastes. If only all artists could grasp the virtues embodied in it.

     I mention this because I recently took the trouble to pan a movie at Amazon. It was a movie I had looked forward to seeing, and it disappointed me profoundly. As mine was merely one of dozens of negative reviews, I expected nothing to come of it. I was shocked when the writer / director wrote to me personally to rebuke me for my review!

     That is the reverse of wisdom. Even though I understand the gentleman’s unhappiness at receiving a bad review – and I emphasize that mine was one of many – what intelligent person could possibly imagine that to be a profitable thing to do?

     There are people who despise any item of artwork you can name. Nor are the reasons for their dislike necessarily rational. Great God in heaven, there are people who think Michelangelo’s David is obscene and should be destroyed! I’ve met one such person.

     He who decides to present his artistic endeavors to the general public must develop calluses over any sensitivity he might have to criticism. No, it’s not legally required; it’s just what an artist must do to preserve his good name -- and his sanity. Take it from one who knows.

The Triduum

     Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday constitute the Triduum of the Christian liturgical year. On these three days we commemorate:

  1. Holy Thursday: The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus, and His Examination by Herod and Pilate;
  2. Good Friday: The Passion, Crucifixion, and Interment of Jesus;
  3. Holy Saturday: The Vigil of His Disciples.

     On these three days, Mass is not celebrated. Rather, church altars are bared, their Tabernacles emptied and Presence lamps extinguished, and Christians worldwide contemplate the momentous proceedings that presaged the central event in the history of Mankind: the Resurrection of Christ.

     I hardly need to recount the Gospel story of those days. It’s familiar to anyone raised in a Western country. Suffice it to say that today we enter upon the heart of Christianity: the narrative which, if you accept the Gospels’ account of it, marks you as a Christian.

     The Triduum is a difficult interval for me. Though it might seem paradoxical, it compels me to revisit the years I spent away from God: to muse over those of my faults and personality quirks that led me to leave faith behind, and also over the series of events and private experiences that caused me to return to it.


     Though it will strike many as bizarre, the following snippet from a great novel has much application:

     ‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’
     Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.
     ‘Exactly. By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.’

     Surely you recognize the novel I’ve quoted above. It’s one of the most important achievements of Twentieth Century fiction. I’ve cited the bit above because of the import of its contrapositive.

     For those who don’t remember their tenth-grade geometry, here’s a refresher:

  • Positive Implicative: If A is true, then B is true..
  • Its Contrapositive: If B is false, then A is false.

     That’s the pattern. Here’s the specific case I have in mind:

  • Positive Implicative: If he has blasphemed, he will surely confess to it rather than face torture and death.
  • Its Contrapositive: The threat of torture and death did not elicit a confession; therefore he did not blaspheme.

     According to the Gospels, Jesus didn’t give in to Herod or Pilate when threatened with torture and death. For those who didn’t witness any of his miracles, and for those born many centuries after his Ascension, this is the clincher. That he suffered his Passion unresistingly confirms his sincerity – his seriousness about the New Covenant. His Resurrection confirms that he wasn’t merely a man, nor some sort of superhero, but rather the Son of God, above all Earthly authorities, just as Simon Peter said.

     Of course, it’s possible to dismiss all of that as mere fantasy, as most atheists and agnostics do. There’s also an intermediate position: persons who subscribe to the Christian ethos but dismiss Christianity’s theological claims. To be ethically Christian but not theologically so, one must dismiss the Resurrection, and at least “reserve judgment” on the Passion.

     No matter what position one takes, the factual assertions can neither be proved nor disproved by any temporal agency. That’s the nature of a religious proposition. But for a very few persons – all of them alive when Christ walked the earth in human flesh – those propositions were supported by the evidence of their senses – and those persons all accepted torture and death rather than recant their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind.

     For the rest of us, it’s a somewhat more abstract trial: a matter of faith, or the refusal thereof.


     I’m a person of rather firm habits. Earlier this morning I drove to church to attend Mass...and chuckled at myself when I saw the bare altar and empty tabernacle, and realized what I’d done. It was a reminder of the grip the patterns of life can exert upon one.

     Here’s another of the patterns of life: the progression of the liturgical year. Easter – Resurrection Sunday, to some – comes every year, somewhere between March 22 and April 25. The Church observes it on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. The rest of the Lenten season, from Ash Wednesday to the Triduum, is set thereby.

     Every year we celebrate the same cycle: the Incarnation, the Nativity, Jesus’s time among men, his entry into Jerusalem, his betrayal, Passion, Resurrection, and finally his Ascension, when he departed at last from mortal flesh. The rhythm is a compelling one. It reinforces our memories of the story we have chosen to accept as truth – Gospel truth. If we who believe ponder the events of the Triduum, including our individual reasons for accepting it as historical fact, it refreshes our faith. But what does the Triduum mean to him who doesn’t yet believe, but who feels a stirring in the cellar of his mind, a whispered suggestion that there might be something beyond the satisfactions and trials of temporal existence?

     Perhaps now is a good time for him to ponder, as well.

     May God bless and keep you all.

     CORRECTION: Mass is celebrated on Holy Thursday evening, in commemoration of the Last Supper. Apologies.

Quickies: FYI Dept.

     At The Burning Platform today you’ll find a highly informative article elucidating the important differences between Islam and Christianity, with particular attention to the concept of "reform." The article title is especially significant:

Why Islam Lops Off Heads, Christianity Doesn’t, and Trump Is Right

     Equally significant are the author’s prescriptions for the changes required to detoxify Islam...and why those changes will never happen.

     Ann Barnhardt has the right of it:

     Islam MUST be destroyed. Anything less is suicidal, effeminate insanity. This satanic political system must be wiped from the face of the earth. Not contained, not tolerated, not quarantined, not “reformed”, not compromised with, not dialogued with, and encountered only for the sole purpose of destroying it.

     Civilized people cannot share a nation with savages. Indeed, as the 28,000 Islam-powered terrorist acts since September 11, 2001 have clearly indicated, it’s become clear that we cannot share a planet with them. There’s no getting around it.

Quickies: Lenten Advice From On High?

     Two days ago, a truck hauling 17 tons of chocolate went up in flames:

     KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A tractor-trailer fire closed southbound I-35 past 119th Street for about a half-hour Tuesday morning....

     The big rig, which was hauling 34,000 pounds of chocolate, was on the right shoulder of the highway.

     As the esteemed Charles Hill of Dustbury put it, “It could be worse, but not much.”

     Well, we just got to see “worse:”

     It wasn't a happy hour for some central Florida drivers when trucks carrying Busch beer and Frito Lay chips collided, spilling them both along Interstate 95....

     The Frito Lay truck overturned. The beer and chips spilled onto the highway. Traffic backed up as troopers closed the road while clearing the debris.

     Clearly, God’s trying to tell us something. Probably that next year we should take Lent more seriously.